The Public Domain Song Anthology: With Modern and Traditional Harmonization. Edited by David Berger and Chuck Israels. Charlotteville, VA: Aperio Press, 2020. [Forewords in English. Available as an online resource and in print (paperback). ISBN 978173354301. $0 (electronic), print version available via donation beginning at $150.]
This collection contains songs from before 1924, which are all in the public domain. In other words, these songs are not anthologized according to a genre, style, or tradition, as is common from most other songbooks, but rather according to the political economy of copyright law and its slightly arbitrary historical marker of 1924. Building on this the editors add a US national framework to the collection, as well as--perhaps most significantly and uniquely--an extra set of "modern harmonizations" in addition to the "traditional" chord changes. I shall begin by commenting on the scope and structure of the book, plus the selection of songs, before reviewing the actual songs and harmonizations which, of course, constitute the main part of the book.
The motivation for the book is, admirably, to create a resource for students, teachers, and musicians who want to perform songs without risking having to pay the extra royalties that comes with playing material that is still under copyright. This will no doubt be useful for musicians wanting to play a gig of only public domain music, or for music teachers who want to organize concerts at the lowest possible cost. This is backed up by the fact that The Public Domain Song Anthology is free and easy to download as an open access, open educational resource in PDF, XML, and Sibelius file formats in addition to the physical book. These issues of copyright, public domain, and open access are the main topic of the short forewords by Robert Schwartz and Peter Jaszi, who are both lawyers. The battle of copyright and the fight for open access educational resources should be of growing concern to every musician, so it is nice to see this issue being raised here.
The main editors of the volume are David Berger and Chuck Israels. Berger is a prolific composer, jazz arranger, and conductor, including as the former leader of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the most famous jazz repertory band in the United States. Israels is a bassist, who has played with everybody from Billie Holiday to Herbie Hancock and is best known for his work with the pianist Bill Evans and as the former director of the National Jazz Ensemble, another pioneering jazz repertory band. With the choice of big jazz names like Berger and Israels as editors and authors of the reharmonizations, the book also contributes to the well-known centering of jazz as the quintessential national music of the United States.
The book is clearly meant to work, by all appearances, as a fakebook from which jazz musicians can play and jam, and the addition of the modern jazz harmonizations suggests that the editors think that these songs could be added to the jazz...